Latter-day Saint Life

Utah State’s Justin Bean on what he learns from his look-alike cousin ‘the Fighting Preacher’

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Utah State basketball star Justin Bean and his cousin four generations back Willard Bean.
Photo of Willard Bean courtesy of Digital Legend Press. Used by permission.

Utah State senior Justin Bean has often been told he looks like “The Fighting Preacher,” his ancestor Willard Washington Bean. And after collision with a teammate during a game against San Diego State last week resulted in a black eye, the resemblance might be growing.

As a middleweight boxing champion, Willard Bean likely had his fair share of black eyes. But his tenacity as a fighter isn't all that Justin admires about his ancestor. Willard his wife Rebecca were called on a mission in 1907 to be the caretakers for the Joseph Smith Farmhouse near Palmyra, New York. The surrounding community members had deeply negative feelings toward the Church, and the Beans served for 24 years building relationships and helping acquire a number of historic properties in the area. Their story of perseverance and love is documented in T.C. Christensen’s film “The Fighting Preacher,” a movie their descendant Justin Bean takes inspiration from.

“It definitely showed his … passion for sharing the gospel, as well as standing up for what he believed in,” Justin Bean told Deseret News. “He was courageous and didn’t fear anybody. He certainly didn’t fear any of the protesters or persecutors. He stood firm and was even willing to use his physical skills and fighting tactics to defend himself. It’s definitely no coincidence that he was chosen for that assignment.”

Justin served his own mission in Reno, Nevada, from 2015-2017, and then walked on Utah State’s basketball team soon after. He told Deseret News that while he hasn’t followed in Willard’s footsteps as a boxer, he does look to his ancestor as an example. Justin visited Palmyra as a child and can remember touring Church history sites and coming to the realization that his last name was a “pretty big deal” in the area. Now he is proud to be a Bean and carry on his ancestor’s legacy.

“It brings an added sense of responsibility in how I live my life, and also a sense of pride, knowing I come from such a respected family,” he said. “More than anything I want to live my life in a way that will honor my family.”

Read more about Justin and his connection to Willard Bean at Deseret News.

Find The Fighting Preacher at Deseret Book stores and

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